If at first you don’t succeed…
This time last year, the Bulldogs of Alabama A&M University were a .500 team staring down a juggernaut heading into the 2008 Circle City Classic. Then 3-3 and fresh off a loss to the eventual 2008 Black College Champion, Grambling State University, the Bulldogs were overwhelmed by an impressive Tuskegee University ground assault, en route to a 34-24 defeat.
Underdogs from the opening kick-off, the Bulldogs mounted a balanced attack, keeping pace with the Golden Tigers through the first three quarters before being outscored 21-17 in the fourth. The loss would eventually push A&M below .500 and on the way to a 5-7 record for the year, and a 4-3 conference record.
For the Bulldogs, the below average finish was their worst under the Anthony Jones era. Entering his eighth season, the 2006 Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) Coach of the Year has returned the Bulldogs to a contender, despite the down season.
But the thing about Black College Football Classics is all that matters is what happens this year. With new years come new expectations. Expectations the Bulldogs appear poised to handle entering the 2009 rematch.
The 2-1 Bulldogs entered this season on a high note, claiming their first two victories before a disappointing 45-13 dismantling by Jacksonville State. Overall, A&M possesses a similarly balanced offensive attack, led by senior wide out Thomas Harris, a recent SWAC Offensive Player of the Week and the school’s most prolific pass catcher. Entering their Week 4 match up against Arkansas Pine Bluff, Harris boasts 20 career touchdowns, just short of a record shared by classmate Ulysses Banks. A threat both as a running back and as a kick return specialist, the senior Banks is a two-time all SWAC selection and was SWAC Freshman of the Year in 2006.
With this potent one-two punch, and with an improved run defense, the Bulldogs are a different team in this Classic rematch. For a team seeking a swift return to greatness, just three seasons removed from their only SWAC title, the rematch is a second opportunity to leave a Classic impression.